Paint & Puppies: Happypaws Pet Portraits
What features do you recall when you think of your best friend? Perhaps a dopey grin, a fluffy tail or that one particularly floppy ear? Susie Hubbard, the artist behind Happypaws, has infused these details with the unique personalities of her customer’s animal companions through custom watercolor portraits since 2018.
Inspired by watching her father draw landscapes when she was a child, Hubbard started painting at a young age. She practiced digital art and typography during high school and college and attended the Visual Art Institute in Salt Lake City for graphic design. When Hubbard first started painting pet portraits, watercolor came naturally. “The more portraits I did, the more expensive watercolor I could buy, which makes a huge difference,” she says. “I just started messing with it and it stuck with me.”
“I’ve painted lobsters, turtles—any type of pet that you can think of. When I get a commission from someone, I love their pet just as much as they do.”
Hubbard’s first pet portrait was of a friend’s dog, an Oreo-colored Border Collie named Dexter. “One day, he sat right in front of me and turned around with the cutest little look on his face. I took a picture of it and told my husband, ‘This would be a really cute pet portrait,’” she says. “I didn’t tell [the friend] about it. I gifted the watercolor portrait to him later. He was so excited that he almost wanted to cry when I gave it to him. He was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my dog!’ It was such a nice feeling.”
After that initial rush of gifting such a meaningful painting, Hubbard texted a handful of friends to ask for photos of their pets. With these first pet portraits completed, she started an Instagram account, @happypawsinsta, which is now her top source of commissions. As any true animal lover knows, the animal friends Hubbard receives art commissions for don’t actually have to be furry. “I’ve painted lobsters, turtles—any type of pet that you can think of,” she says. “When I get a commission from someone, I love their pet just as much as they do.”
Hubbard’s process for receiving a new commission depends on how many pets are being painted and the type of animal pictured. She always asks for multiple photos of the pets and is very particular about the photos customers send. “They need to be clear, and the pet should preferably be looking into the camera so that I can get as many details as possible,” Hubbard says. “I usually like to ask my customers for a brief biography of the pets and what their favorite details are. Maybe some animals always had one ear up and one ear down, or their eyes were a certain color or they have a particular personality. I like to get as much personality into the portrait as I can.”
Portraits can take anywhere from two to six weeks for Hubbard to complete depending on how large the canvas is or if the customer wants her to paint a specific background. At markets and through her Happypaws Etsy account, Hubbard offers custom pet portrait ornaments and cards. She also recently finished her first children’s book, A Black Cat’s Christmas, a story about a black kitty (not unlike her own) during the holidays. “When you think of a black cat, you think about Halloween,” she says. “But it’s about all the reasons why a black cat’s favorite holiday is Christmas.”
“I usually like to ask my customers for a brief biography of the pets and what their favorite details are … I like to get as much personality into the portrait as I can.”
In the future, Hubbard hopes to create more children’s books, illustrations and pet portraits. Whether commemorating a furry family member who has passed away or pausing a puppy’s moment in time, her pet portraits keep the image of our irreplaceable friends alive forever.
“I have a cat and a dog. They do just become part of your family,” Hubbard says. “They’re everything to you. When you get a specific drawing of your pet or someone gifts that to you, it’s so meaningful.” Browse examples of Hubbard’s pet portraits on the Happypaws Instagram account (@happypawsinsta) and order your own through her shophappypaws Etsy store.
Read more about local artists working in watercolor:
Neuer Geist: Breathing New Life into Existing Walls
Sophie Schwabacher: Tapping Beer Nostalgia with Watercolor
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